In times gone by, it was relatively easy to request bulkhead seats, exit row seats and seats towards the front of the aircraft with relative ease no matter what your frequent flyer status with a given airline. In my travels in the past year or two with some of the U.S. majors I have seen this change, specifically with Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.
When making online reservations, during the seat selection process these seats are blocked for elite members of those airlines' reward programmes. Although I have no quibbles with this policy, my question is this: Do these seats remain out of bounds for us as infrequent travelers, or does an early check-in at your departure airport increase the chances of acquiring any of these types of seats upon request if they are available?
Alaska airlines always gives me an exit row seat. I show up three hours early and request it, and I always get a window exit row seat, and usually the other seats in the row next to me are empty. Man...exit row seats...that's flying comfortably in coach for sure! You can stretch your legs ALL the way out!
I've never had a problem getting an exit row seat on Delta, or even one that has been "blocked" for elite members. I've never had to show up early to get one either. I just get on delta.com, look up my flights, view the seats, and see if there is an exit seat available. If there is, I just call their 1-800 number and ask for it. Its worked for me each time.
Continental will also be in part of my travel plans. I called them to request an exit row seat and had no luck. The agent told me to arrive early at my origin airport in order to be assigned one, so that's what I plan to do. Hopefully I get one.
I always thought that they were not allowed to assign exit row seats until the day of the flight so that the agent can confirm that in an emergency you are physically capable of operating the emergency exit and assisting the crew? What would happen if somebody not capable got those seats and wasn't told they couldn't sit there until they were already on the plane? Bigger hassle than its worth in my opinion to assign these seats in advance.
Two rules in aviation, don't hit anything and don't run out of gas, cause if you run out of gas yer gonna hit something.
I do not know about the policy of other airlines, but there was a time on delta.com during the seat selection process that you were able to assign yourself exit row seats. Since I am not an elite member of SkyMiles, I no longer have that option, but at that time you had to click "yes" or "no" to the standard questions/regulations governing who can sit in an exit row. Although it's not outside the realm of possibility that someone who was not eligible could lie on the questions, it was entirely possible to assign yourself exit row seats far in advance of your flight.